While there’s never a good time to lose a key leader in your organisation, succession planning can minimise the potential disruption and ensure essential business continuity.

Even the most well-oiled companies can quickly experience roadblocks and challenges when a key leader or manager moves on. Succession planning helps keep operations ticking over until critical vacancies are filled.

With that in mind, here’s how to create an effective successful plan for your business or team.

What is succession planning?

All businesses lose good people at one point or another – for a variety of personal or professional reasons. Succession planning is the process of preparing for that shift and period of change to ensure the business is well-placed to continue on with its goals and strategy regardless.

Filling critical vacancies can be expensive, time consuming and challenging, often leaving a significant resource gap that becomes delegated or lumped on to the current team, creating another set of challenges. Employers need to prepare for this by implementing a succession planning process that will allow them to minimise the impact of losing key leaders.

Succession planning typically includes:

  • Identifying and mitigating risks involved in operational leadership gaps
  • Putting a plan in to place to ensure business continuity
  • Providing development opportunities for existing talent within the organisation

While the succession management process differs from one organisation to another, there are certain characteristics of an effective program that are universal. Succession planning should be:

  • Aligned with the overall business strategy. This will ensure that the investment in future leaders is targeted and reflects the organisation’s strategic direction.
  • Driven from the top. Senior executives are best placed to review business plans and identify future skill requirements for their various business functions.
  • A coordinated effort to ensure ownership over the process. HR, managers and senior executives should all be accountable for growing leaders.
  • Linked to broader HR processes. This includes performance management, compensation, recognition, recruitment and retention and workforce management.

How to create a succession plan

Here are four crucial tips for optimising the succession planning process:

1. Pinpoint critical roles and tasks

To create a solid base for your succession plan, start by analysing corporate business plans to identify the positions and skills most critical for business growth. Then, establish the key competencies required to undertake these roles and the high potential employees that could step up and assume these positions.

2. Identify potential leaders

Proactively identify and develop high potential employees so you have people with the right skills and experience to assume key leadership roles when they become available.

As an employer, this will enable you to respond to change more effectively and ensure leadership continuity. It’s also an effective process for recognising, developing and retaining proven or high potential leadership talent.

3. Facilitate hiring or development opportunities

Determine the training, development or recruitment strategies required to fill skill gaps. If aiming to hire internally, this could include mentoring, coaching, job rotation, secondments, educational programs and formalised feedback processes.

4. Review regularly

Most importantly, succession planning needs to be an ongoing commitment. Managers in all parts of the organisation should be continually identifying gaps in talent and focusing on the development of high performers, while recognising when external recruitment may be the appropriate path to fill vacancies.

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